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Spectacular Bid, Triple Crown Contender May 14, 1979


It is a sad fact of horse racing that the best runners don't
always make the best sires, that a champion's legend can be
diminished by the quality of his genes. So it is with
Spectacular Bid, a modestly bred colt who became one of the best
racehorses of all time but who has been a spectacular flop at
stud. From 1978 to '80 he won 13 Grade I stakes. In the last 20
years, however, his progeny have won just one, and his stud fee
has fallen from a lofty $150,000 in '84 to only $3,500 today.
"He's still a legitimate stallion," insists veterinarian
Jonathan Davis, the Bid's syndicate manager at Milfer Farm in
Unadilla, N.Y. "He just hasn't cloned himself."

That would be a tall order. After winning the Eclipse Award as
the best 2-year-old colt in 1978, Spectacular Bid made a run for
the Triple Crown that seemed to carry with it a whisper of
destiny. For the first five months of '79 he laid waste the
3-year-old division like few horses before him. He won five prep
races by an average of more than seven lengths, then swept the
Kentucky Derby--he was the last favorite to prevail until
Fusaichi Pegasus this year--and the Preakness in similar
fashion. The Bid's outspoken trainer, Grover (Buddy) Delp, said
of his charcoal-and-copper colt that spring, "He may be the best
horse ever to look through a bridle." Considered a mortal lock
to win the third Triple Crown in three years, after Seattle Slew
in '77 and Affirmed in '78, the Bid was leading in the Belmont
by four lengths as he turned for home, but he tired in the
stretch and finished a distant third to a lightly raced chestnut
named Coastal.

Though Spectacular Bid's bid for the Triple Crown fell short, he
burnished his legend the following year with arguably the
strongest 4-year-old campaign ever. He won all nine of his
starts, including the 1 1/4-mile Strub at Santa Anita in the
unearthly time of 1:57 4/5, the fastest mile and a quarter ever
run on dirt, and took the Woodward Stakes at Belmont in
September 1980 in a walkover. Bill Shoemaker called him the best
horse he ever rode.

In 1981 the Bid retired to Claiborne Farm, in Kentucky, where he
lived in the stallion barn along with Secretariat. He moved to
Milfer Farm, where he would be the sole star, in '91 and is now
bred to as many as 50 mares a year, siring show horses as well
as racehorses. He has gone a ghostly gray in his old age, and
though the shade is a far cry from the coat he wore during his
youth, it's no less distinguished. "When you bring the camera
out, he'll pose," says Davis. "He's kind of a ham. He still
knows who he is."

--Mark Beech



The Bid has gone a ghostly gray, but his coat is no less
distinguished than that of his youth.